The Birth of Winterbottom
The game began as a thesis project. While a graduate student at USC’s Interactive Media Division, Korba saw Zbigniew Rybczynski’s short film Tango. The film’s complex choreography provided inspiration for the game’s time-manipulating looping mechanic. And the works of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd – auteurs Korba gained experience with as an undergraduate film major – supplied the aesthetic.
Korba joined with fellow student Bellezza to create a team comprised of other graduate students, undergraduates, engineering students, and even a high school student – all focused on making Winterbottom a reality. After many sleepless nights and lots of pie (of the pizza variety, not dessert), the team had a Flash-based bare-bones Winterbottom prototype.
“We just submitted it to the  Independent Games Festival and then waited by our e-mails for weeks until we found out if we got in,” said Korba when I asked the cofounders of The Odd Gentlemen about how the game came to fruition. “We ended up getting in and that’s where the ball started rolling.”
Trade Shows, Press, and Publishers
After winning a spot on the IGF Student Showcase, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom garnered significant attention from media and publishers. “It was overwhelming, trying to work on the game and handle all this press.”
Korba and Bellezza began actively shopping their game to publishers after receiving more positive attention at GDC 2008. “We literally had a meeting with everybody.”
However, one publisher stood out. “2K, from the start, got what we were going for and they weren’t going to mess with it creatively. They got it and they know that… you should just leave the creative people to be.”
But neither side was ready to strike a deal. After all, Korba and Bellezza still had to finish their graduate theses. The two went back to school but continued publicizing their game by submitting it to E3’s Indiecade, Wired’s NextFest, and the 2008 Tokyo Game Show. Korba reminisced about the 2008 Indiecade. “It was really cool that year because it was the year that [E3] was really small, so we were literally right next to Mirror’s Edge.”
“We actually won Best of E3 Awards and Top Ten of the Show from giant sites, which to us was just flabbergasting. We were totally honored because we were a little Flash game that was nominated with these big huge budgeted games.”
Of course, Winterbottom’s continued success was not lost on publishers. “2K came by again,” Korba chronicled. “I think they were starting to get a little nervous because of all the attention we were gathering.”
After negotiating with the publisher, Korba and Bellezza finally signed over The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom’s publishing rights to 2K Play. But the duo didn’t have time to enjoy their accomplishment. They still had to make a fully developed Xbox Live Arcade version – Winterbottom remained a Flash prototype.
A Braid Intermission
Winterbottom has often been compared to another XBLA game, Braid, and not without reason – both are side-scrollers with time-bending mechanics. To lend even more credence to such comparisons, Braid developer Jonathan Blow served as Matt Korba’s thesis advisor at USC.
When I asked Korba about the influence Blow’s game had on his project, he was quick to respond. “When we started this game, Braid wasn’t out. We didn’t know about Braid.”
So I asked if the opposite was true: Did Winterbottom influence Braid?
Bellezza chimed in, “The advice from Jonathan on our game wasn’t even really about mechanics but more about, ‘What do you want the user to feel? What do you want the experience to be like?’”
Korba persisted, “We never swapped time tricks. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, try this time trick or try that time trick.’ [Jon] was more about… ‘What do you want the player to feel?’”
I guess great minds really do think alike.